Eat to Beat Anxiety

The connection between diet and mood is more than just food for thought. “A very large body of evidence now exists that suggests diet is as important to mental health as it is to physical health,” according to Felice Jacka, and she should know. She’s the president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research. “A healthy diet is protective and an unhealthy diet is a risk factor for depression and anxiety.” As someone how suffers from both, I’m acutely aware of the difference in how I feel when choosing healthier whole foods, but what exactly is it that causes this shift? It’s tough to pick apart such a tangled ball of yarn, where so many elements are inextricably tangled together. When it comes to anxiety though, I’ve seen amazing and rapid improvement by focusing on a few select superfoods to keep all-out panic at bay.

Almonds are often praised for their high levels of healthy fats, touted for heart health. Moreover, these nutty superfoods bring iron and zinc to the table in ample measures, both of which are key nutrients for balancing one’s mood and overall energy level.

Hemp seeds are another good source of brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help with anxiety. Naturally, it stands to reason that CBD oils derived from hemp has the very same nutritional properties, along with chemicals called cannabinoids that bind to specialized receptors in the brain. These affect everything from appetite, pain perception, mood, and memory.

Chocolate, dark and intense, without added sweetener or milks, is more than just a feel-good flavor. Yes, it does help boost moods based on great taste alone, but it also has been show to reduce cortisol, which is a stress hormone that can wreak havoc is left unchecked. Additionally, the flavonoids in the cocoa are protective for all the cells in your body. These antioxidants have shown promising results in lowering blood pressure, boosting the blood flow to the brain and heart, which all adds up to less anxiety. Just be careful not to overdo it, since the natural caffeine compounds could add up to have quite the opposite effect.

Maca root is bit less common, but particularly potent. Adaptogens are all the rage these days, promising protective properties against stressors of all kinds, whether physical, chemical or biological. Maca in particular is a remarkably concentrated source of phytonutrients such as magnesium and iron, which are both critical for controlling anxiety.

Whole grains, packed with satisfying, satiating fiber, are the complex carbohydrates that help maintain a steady energy boost. If you’re hungry, you’re less rational, less patient, and quicker to irritation. Oats especially are said to help increase the production of serotonin, most famously known for addressing symptoms of depression.

Coconut, and all the individual ingredients it creates, from coconut milk, oil, flour, and butter, are made up of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) which are smaller fat molecules that are easily broken down and used as a backup source of energy. The brain is made of approximately 60% fat, so it needs these essential fatty acids to function properly. The brain can’t store energy and can continue to function properly for a very short amount of time without it. You need to consistently feed your brain these good fats to keep it happy and healthy.

Taken individually, these separate ingredients can do a world of good, but when they join forces in a fully balanced diet is the way to make the most impact. Beyond the powerful nutritional punch you get from the array of vitamins and minerals you get from so many unique sources, it happens to add up to a really delicious combination, too. Joining all of these anti-anxiety superfoods in sweet blended harmony, the resulting creamy shake will blow any powdered meal replacement out of the water. Malt shoppes only wish they had the true earthy goodness that maca brings to the table, playing off the subtle woodsy notes of true cocoa. Thick and rich with whole oats and fresh coconut, rather than sugary scoops of ice cream, you can drink it down to power up, rather than crash out from a sugar coma later.

There are no overnight cures, no quick fixes for holistic lifestyle changes, which can also be said of many medications, too. You really are what you eat, though; eat well to feel well!

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Mousse Tracks

Like so many great culinary achievements, we have the French to thank for inventing the edible frothy custard known as mousse. Originally a savory dish akin to aerated pâté, it didn’t catch on as a dessert, typically built upon fruity flavors, until the later half of the 19th century. Undergoing a dramatic rebranding since then, the concept is now nearly synonymous with chocolate, which is precisely what we’re celebrating today.

National Chocolate Mousse Day is a real date on the official calendar, and this designation is genuinely warranted. As easy to whip up as your average pudding but far more decadent, eggs need not apply for any of the natural loft in my last course. Swapping in tofu makes the process effortless, and the end results impressively high in protein.

Fool-proof, crowd-pleasing, and devilishly decadent, one of my favorite versions comes from Laura Theodore. Her Marvelous Chocolate-Peanut Butter Mousse has been a frequent dinner party guest. Always welcome at the table and excellent company to share, it even seems to clean up after itself; every glass is licked clean by the end of the night.

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The Devil Eats Chocolate

“That’s very fattening.”

Dropping like a stone out of the clear blue sky, the unsolicited comment stopped me cold. I hadn’t even been aware of the man standing in front of my cart, blocking my slow procession down the aisle. An instinctual flicker of rage flashed before my eyes, as if I had been slapped and called out back for a fight. This? This innocent little chocolate bar I held in my hand, fattening? What had it ever done to deserve such a harsh insult, completely unprovoked?

I looked up quickly, startled by the intrusion. There was only one way to respond, as far as I could see.

Looking this odd stranger straight in the eye, I spoke clearly and calmly.

“Yep.”

Immediately, the decision was made under that advice. Into the cart went the candy, tossed nonchalantly. That was all such a careless exclamation warranted.

Pulling the cart away from the shelf, away from this intruder, an incredulous grin began to spread across my face. What a laughable claim! What a strange thing to interject! Perhaps I should be grateful he’s so deeply concerned with my nutritional well-being. As if “fattening” was a terrible condition that could be contracted and spread like a disease, it was so kind of him to take a stand against the evils of all confectionery the world over, starting with my misinformed purchase.

Taking my plunder outside the store, there was only one way to dispose of such dangerous contraband. Quickly removing the wrapper to dissect the scored rectangles, it broke like the flimsy villain facade it hid behind, shattering into dark brown splinters that glittered inside the foil sheath. Vanquishing the beast, piece after piece succumbed to a sharp bite of the teeth, and a slow melt over the tongue.

May this beast inflict its fattening ways over society no more.

Think Outside the Chocolate Box

Romance comes in many flavors, but chocolate is the dominant taste on lovers’ lips come February 14th. Truffles, molded and dipped, lavished with nuts, caramel, spices, and salt, line up in neat lines across interminable rows of red boxes, nestled into fluted paper cups serving more as garnishes than practical storage solutions. Chocolate, the ubiquitous sweet aphrodisiac, is easily the top treat for this loving affair, beating both flowers and jewelry offerings by a mile. Predictable yet indisputably in demand, it’s hard to argue with another chocolate-covered Valentine’s Day.

That doesn’t mean you need to stick with conventional confections to win over a fickle mistress. Consider a deeper dive into the cacao pool with a Homemade Tunnel of Fudge Bundt Cake. Originally devised as an amalgamation of questionable packaged baking mixes, a true tunnel of fudge cake is easier to assemble than your average Bundt. With a river of gooey, rich chocolate running through the core, it’s essentially a supersized lava cake if eaten warm. Dense, rich, and intense, at the core resides the famed heart of fudge, thick as cookie dough without the harsh sugar rush synonymous with unbaked batter. Nuts traditionally make up the bulk of this blend, but to make it allergen-free, they’re replaced with decadent chocolate morsels instead, much to the delight of devoted chocoholics and picky eaters, as well.

Just in time for this sweet heart’s holiday, you can find my recipe over on Go Dairy Free.

Lucky Number Thirteen

Dearest BitterSweet,

Mazel tov! Today, you have crossed the invisible line separating childhood from the rest of your life, straight into ranks of adulthood. It’s unthinkable that your journey began thirteen years ago, back in the early days of blogging and before Blogging, capital B, became a legitimate occupation. Granted, you still have a long way to go before you reach that lofty pinnacle of professional success, but pure and simple survival is a triumph to be celebrated in this competitive, ever-changing field. You have beaten the odds to officially become a teenager.

I still struggle to define you at times, to explain your occasionally baffling tantrums and errors, but what child doesn’t have their rebellious moments? Even when we fight, no matter how ugly the language gets, it’s never enough to pull us apart. Thirteen years in, I couldn’t imagine my life without you.

Little did I know what I was getting myself into when I hit that fateful “publish” button on day one. The lessons came in fast, tough to swallow, painful at times, but always for the best. Let’s review in brief…

  • If you don’t love what you do, it won’t work out. Like any relationship, it can’t be about money, fame, or any other traditional marker of success. At the end of the day it’s always about passion and inspiration.
  • These things can’t be forced. You, little BitterSweet, only began to grow and thrive when given the freedom to do so. True followers can’t be bought and genuine comments seeking further conversation, not just self-promotion, can’t be be forced.
  • Perfection is the enemy of progress. It would be impossible to move forward if we focused on all the little shortcomings of every post, every photo shoot, every social sharing; the endless tally of flaws would be downright laughable.
  • Community is everything. It takes a village to raise a blog, or support one long enough for it to survive infancy. There’s not a chance that BitterSweet would still exist without the kindness and encouragement of a thousand voices chiming in from all corners of the earth. It still boggles to mind to consider how this tiny corner of the internet has brought together such an incredibly vast, diverse array of friends, whom I would have had no chance of finding otherwise.
  • Most importantly, if there’s anything I’ve learned after all this time, there’s only one real way to mark the occasion: Cake.

A grand cake, pitch-perfect with bittersweet layers of chocolate ganache sandwiched between tender yet bold espresso cake layers and dressed in a robe of the finest white chocolate frosting you ever did see.

Strong espresso, the kind that makes your eyes open wide and sends you flying high on a rush of energy, has become a recent obsession. Though I typically limit myself to one shot per day, for fear of never sleeping again should I exceed that modest dose, this treat really packs a serious punch of caffeine in each slice. Rest assured, however, that the belated bedtime will be worth every last bite. Tempered by the light, luscious buttercream, flecked with vanilla beans and redolent of cocoa butter, chocolate ganache could tread dangerously into the realm of excess, but it’s just the right amount of sweet indulgence here. The trio sings like a well-practiced choir, supporting without smothering one another… Much like a succession of outstanding blog posts, I suppose.

So today, BitterSweet, you turn thirteen years old. Happy birthday, my dear. You’ve come a long way, but we have so much further still to go.

Yield: 12 - 16 Servings

Bittersweet Espresso Layer Cake with White Chocolate Frosting

Bittersweet Espresso Layer Cake with White Chocolate Frosting
A dessert worthy of a celebration all on its own, the contrast of light and dark flavors is positively irresistible. Bold espresso layer cake with bittersweet chocolate ganache filling, covered in light, fluffy white chocolate buttercream frosting.
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Additional Time 3 hours
Total Time 4 hours

Ingredients

Espresso Cake

  • 3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 3 Tablespoons Arrowroot
  • 3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 Cup Olive Oil
  • 1 1/2 Cups (About 12 - 14 Shots) Brewed Espresso, Cooled
  • 1/4 Cup Kahlua or Coffee Liqueur
  • 1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

BitterSweet Chocolate Ganache

  • 2/3 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
  • 2 Cups (12 Ounces) Bittersweet Chocolate Chips

White Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease two 8-inch round baking pans.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, arrowroot, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. Separately, combine the oil, cooled espresso, kahlua or liqueur, vinegar, and vanilla, blending well before adding the liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry.
  4. Stir with a wide spatula to bring the two mixtures together. It's perfectly fine to leave a few lumps remaining in the batter, rather than running the risk of over-mixing.
  5. Divide the batter equally between your two prepared pans, smoothing the tops as needed.
  6. Bake for 20 - 24 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. Cool completely before assembling.
  7. Meanwhile, prepare the ganache by heating the coconut milk and chocolate together either on a double-boiler or in the microwave. Stir frequently until perfectly smooth. If using the microwave, heat in 30-second intervals at full power. Chill, stirring periodically, until thickened but spreadable; about 3 hours in the fridge or 1 hour in the freezer.
  8. For the frosting, heat the white chocolate over a double-boiler or in the microwave but be vigilant! White chocolate is very easy to burn, so stir constantly, until smooth. If using the microwave, heat in 20-second intervals at full power. Cool to room temperature.
  9. Cream together the butter and sugar in your stand mixer using the whisk attachment. Once smooth, add in the cooled but still liquid white chocolate along with the vanilla. Beat on high speed, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl with your spatula, until smooth and fluffy.
  10. To assemble the cake, slice both layers into two equal halves, creating four thin layers. Place your first round of cake on your desired serving plate and top with a third of the ganache. Carefully spread it to cover the top evenly. Top with another round of cake and repeat, until you end with the final round of plain cake.
  11. Smoother with frosting and decorate as desired. Be aware that if the cake is cold, the frosting will begin to set immediately. You can slightly melt and coerce it to a smoother finish by heating a metal offset spatula, but bear in mind that this will darken it to a more yellow finish, rather than bright white.

Notes

Cake layers can be baked in advance and stored separately in the freezer until ready to assemble. Thaw completely and bring to room temperature before beginning the process. Ganache and frosting must be made just prior to using.

Cococlectic Tastes

Lined up neatly on the mantel in one carefully manicured row, the thick card stock shimmered with foil appliques, glitter, glossy photos, puffy stickers. Printed or handwritten, each holiday card is a gift of the highest order. The thoughtful messages, updates on life events and bright wishes for the future, come straight from the heart. When I would simply ask to exchange greeting cards if prompted for a holiday wish list, it wasn’t to be rebellious nor frugal, but a genuine love of that time-honored practice. Over the years though, like so much of the pure glee this season holds during childhood, life tends to get in the way, making it a torturous mad dash to stuff that stack of envelopes into the mailbox before time runs out. That’s why I’ve slowly start shifting to the fledgling movement of sending New Year’s cards instead, and that’s why I’m also advocating New Year’s shopping and gifting, when Santa doesn’t quite deliver.

Amidst the subscription box boom, there are some real treasure chests to be found, and Cococlectic is one of them. Chocolate is never a hard sell so in case the presents don’t all make it under the tree in time, the promise of a monthly cocoa bonus is a foolproof, and quite cunning, way to buy a bit more time. Four full-size, single origin bars are bundled in each package and sealed with a stately wax impression, almost like an built-in stamp of approval.

Each assortment is guaranteed to delight with exclusive artisan treats. No matter the feature, the highlighted dark chocolates are always vegan, fair trade, soy-free, gluten-free, and tree-nut free. That also means extraneous ingredients are kept to a minimum, leaving your attention entirely focused to the quality of the cacao. Those notes of caramel, coffee, fruits, flowers, wine, earth, and more that you’re tasting come solely from the bean; a bold new world of nuanced flavors awaits you in each burnished square.

Cococlectic only ships during the cooler winter months to avoid a potentially disastrous meltdown in transit, so when you take that into consideration, you’re actually right on time to take advantage of of such a gift. Get $10 off any Cococlectic Membership subscription when you use the coupon Code SWEETVEGAN at checkout. Finish off the year on a sweet note to share with others or savor all by yourself.